LONDON (AP) — China has criticized the United States, Britain and Australia over their pact on nuclear-powered submarines, which Beijing and some experts have warned could set a dangerous precedent at a precarious time for global security.

The deal, formally announced by the leaders of the three Western allies in San Diego on Monday, will provide Australia with conventionally armed submarines as part of a broader effort to counter the growing geopolitical threat from China.

The deal, known as AUKUS, exploits a loophole in a landmark global nuclear treaty, which has raised fears among arms control experts. And Beijing hit back on Tuesday, accusing the trio of jeopardizing the nuclear non-proliferation system.

«The three countries have gone more and more down a wrong and dangerous path for their own selfish political gains, disregarding the concerns of the international community,» said Wang Wenbin, spokesman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. he said at a regular press conference.

A precedent for nuclear power?

The top five nuclear weapon states—the U.S. nuclear disarmament.

However, the AUKUS agreement uses a clause that allows fissile material, the key component of nuclear weapons, to be transferred to a non-nuclear state without requiring inspection by the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). when it is not used. for “explosive use”.

The pact will make Australia the seventh country in the world to have nuclear-powered submarines after the United States, Britain, France, China, India and Russia.

The United Nations nuclear watchdog said in a statement tuesday that AUKUS partners had assured him that they would maintain the current non-proliferation regime, but added that he «must make sure that no proliferation risks arise from this project.»

The White House said the three nations «have consulted regularly with the IAEA over the past year» and will continue to work to «strengthen the nuclear nonproliferation regime and establish the strongest precedent for nonproliferation.»

However, the Chinese mission to the UN called the agreement a clear violation of the nuclear treaty that could help fuel an arms race.

«The irony of #AUKUS is that two nuclear weapon states that claim to uphold the highest standard of nuclear non-proliferation are transferring tons of weapons-grade enriched uranium to a non-nuclear weapon state, clearly violating the object and purpose of the NPT. he said in one of a series of tweets on Monday.

The mission went on to say that the AUKUS deal would «damage the authority and effectiveness of the international nonproliferation system,» a possible indication that China might reject the treaty in the future.

And while Beijing may have its own interests, China wasn’t the only one to express concern on the issue.

«The concern is that other countries may capitalize on this precedent by developing or renewing their interest in nuclear-powered submarines and using them to circumvent IAEA safeguards on their nuclear programs,» said Ludovica Castelli, a doctoral researcher in nuclear issues at the University of Leicester in England, he told NBC News.

“In addition to benign or malicious intent a country may have, a decline in IAEA monitoring activity is a negative pattern. In addition, there is an inverse relationship between the credibility and robustness of the application process and the entrenchment of double standards”.

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong he told the Guardian newspaper that the Chinese criticism «was not founded on the facts.»

For its part, China has embarked on an expansion of its arsenal of nuclear weapons in recent years, according to independent experts and Pentagon assessments, while Washington and other governments have accused it of failing to take steps to prevent its ally North Korea from , amassing its own arsenal of nuclear weapons.

Chinese state media have dismissed reports of its investments in nuclear weapons as propaganda by the United States, and the US nuclear arsenal remains far larger than China’s.

The United States and its allies believe they had to forge the defense pact to counter China’s growing military power and what they see as its aggressive behavior in the region.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters on Air Force One on Monday that the deal was part of Washington’s efforts «to help ensure peace and stability» in the Indo-Pacific. . He stressed that the deal, which has been in the works for nearly 18 months, should not come as a surprise to Beijing.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said in an interview with NBC News Sunday that China represents «a systemic challenge to the world order.»

But while the submarine deal comes at a time of heightened tensions, it also landed at a time of heightened fears over nuclear safety.